The Hem of His Garment

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, I would like to share a homily about today’s Gospel that I prepared for the Catholic Health Association in 2015. Even though it is a little long, I hope you find it fruitful for your prayer.


It is a soft, summer morning in Capernaum and Jesus is in the height of his ministry.  Large crowds follow him wherever he goes, crowds hungry with hope; crowds fired by his counter-cultural words and miraculous deeds. This morning, Jesus prepares to speak to them, to translate into language they can comprehend the Eternal Life that lives in his heart.  His back is to the gentle, sunlit sea. The hubbub softens to a murmur, finally stilled by the lapping waves.

But before Jesus can begin, a distressed man bursts through the gathered crowd.  His robes fly about him as he runs to Jesus and falls at his feet.  This man is important, so important that we all have known his name for two thousand years.  This is Jairus who lives nearby and organizes the worship in the synagogue.  Now breathless and swallowing sobs, Jairus pleads with Jesus: Please! My daughter! You can give her life!

Every loving father has been Jairus at least once in his life.  We know these fathers. We are these fathers. They are the ones who burst into emergency rooms with a seizing infant in their arms. They are the ones who stare blankly at the pronouncement of a stillborn child. They are the old men in war-ravaged countries who kneel at the sides of their fallen sons and desecrated daughters. They are all the men throughout history rendered helpless by the forces of unbridled power, greed and death.

The merciful heart of Jesus understands this man and his desperate urgency.  Without even a word, Jesus gets up and accompanies Jairus to the place of his pleading.

But there is another urgency pushing forward from the crowds:  a woman, apparently of low importance for we have never known her name.   She is a woman whom the ages have defined by her affliction.  She is “The Woman with the Hemorrhage”.  Without the status of Jairus, she approaches Jesus as such a woman must. She crawls behind him at his heels, reaching through the milling masses to even scrape the hem of his garment.

This is a troubled woman, a stigmatized woman. Her life has been spent, literally, in embarrassment, isolation, fatigue and, no doubt, abuse.  For twelve years – coincidentally the life span of Jairus’ s daughter – her vitality has bled out of her.  Her face is gaunt; her eyes sunken.  Her soul’s light is all but extinguished.  She is a woman who knows a particular kind of scorn.

We know these women.  We are these women.  They are the ones filled with remorse for an aborted baby.  They are the ones who miscarry their longed-for child. They are the women whose beautiful young sons are profiled, stereotyped and hunted on the violent streets. They are the mothers of “The Disappeared”. They are the women who suffer disproportionately from war, poverty, hunger and violence.  They are trafficked women, prostituted women, women victimized by the long saga of domination and dehumanization.

Mk 5_28 copy

It is just such a broken woman who stretches her fingers through the Galilean dust in a last reckless reach for healing. She finds only the hem of his robe. Touching it, she is transformed, like a parched meadow in the spring rain.  Her whole being reaches up to receive the holy restoration.  She knows herself to be healed.  And it is enough; it is everything.  She retreats into the resignation of her otherwise lonely life.

But Jesus wants more for us than just the practical miracles we beg for. We ask for one healing; Jesus wants our eternal salvation. We ask for one blessing; Jesus wants our entire lives to be filled with grace. We ask for one prayer to be answered; Jesus wants our life to become a prayer.

Jesus feels the electrical touch of her hope. He feels the secret healing she has extracted from him.  He turns to seek her.  Can you see their eyes meet?  Yes, the bleeding has been stemmed, but he sees the deeper wounds that scar her soul. His look of immense mercy invites her to tell him “the whole truth”.  By her touch, she has commandeered a physical healing.  But by his gracious turning toward her, her entire being is renewed.  In this sacred glance, her history has been healed.  Her future has been pulled from darkness into light.  Her capacity to love has been rekindled.  She now and forever will remember herself as a child of God.

Jairus waits, no doubt impatiently, at the edge of this miracle, anxious for such power to touch his daughter’s life.  He fears they have lingered too long with the woman.  His servants arrive, confirming his fears. He receives the dreaded report, “Your daughter has died.”

Jesus now pushes Jairus to the gauntlet of pure faith. In the face of this devastating news, Jesus tells him, “Do not be afraid; just have faith.” Is this not an almost impossible command?  Like Jairus, we all know what it is to worry for our children:

  • Fathers of color teach their sons behaviors to protect them from profiling.
  • Immigrant parents fear their children will be ripped from them in a pre-dawn raid.
  • Famine-ravaged mothers watch their children disappear into hunger.
  • In hospitals and doctor’s offices, devastated parents summon the courage to accompany their critically ill child.

And Jesus says, “ Don’t be afraid. Have faith.”! What can he possibly mean?

Perhaps it is this simple.  In Jairus’s home, Jesus takes the dead girl’s hand.  He says, “Talitha, koumi – Little girl, arise.” His call to her heart tells her there is no darkness, devastation or death from which God cannot draw us into life.  This is the truth Jesus brings to the little girl and to us.  But it is a truth that, in our fear and need, we cannot always see.

For the moment, this girl lives. But at some time in history she, like all of us, will die.  So the miracle is not the restoration of her life.  The miracle is that her eyes, and her parents’ eyes, are opened to the power of God over death.  Despite all appearances, God’s life endures eternally.

This is the revelation of this Gospel passage. If we live by faith, we live beyond cure into healing.  If we live by faith, even death can bring life.  If we live by faith, we are free to release all worry into the abundant mercy of God who grants us healing even beyond our asking or desire.

Man or woman, old or young, at some time in our lives each one of us has been Jairus. Each one of us has been one or the other of these two women.  Within their stories of woundedness and deep faith, our stories shelter.  Jairus and the afflicted women – unnamed like so many women throughout time – believed there was a way to new life.  They reached for it.  They begged for it.  What is it in us that cries out for such healing?  What is it in us that, without the touch of Jesus, teeters on the verge of death?

Simply by believing, these three Gospel figures became new beings. Simply by believing, their orientation changed from darkness to light. By their example, let us lift up those wounded and deadened places in our hearts and world before the loving gaze of Jesus.

To what suffering in our souls is God whispering the encouragement, “Talitha, koum”?  What is the “whole truth” Jesus is inviting us to confide? Let us arise and respond to him in the full energy of our faith. Let us gaze with boundless confidence into the eyes of God’s mercy.

Music: Talitha Koumi – adapted from Michael Card

Prayer to Honor a Beautiful Sunset

(Because the sunset was so magnificent tonight,
I thought I might share this prayer I wrote many, many years ago.)

sunsetJPG

Degreeing Prayer
(To Yield Graciously to Life by Degrees – Like the Sun)

O God, my Beginning and my End,
I do not choose to “rage into the night”.
I choose to bleed into it,
graciously, as
Jesus bled…

by willing peace in face of curdled power,
by willing love in face
of irrational hate,
by willing acquiescence in the face of
time’s inexorable demand.

I want to be that strong…
to be so gentle, because
I think that
Jesus looked into the Dark
and saw Your Face
to learn antithesis of violence.

You are the Yielding One,
eschewing power for the sake of love.

You are Creator, granting
freedom in the will of those to whom
You bind Yourself by love.

You are the Contradiction
of control.

You are the Silent Source
of all
ennobled dying,
by those grafted to your Mystery
in the constant dark.

Absorb me,
as I near the forward edge of night.

Grade me,
like the colors of a yielding spectrum,
to softly welcome Your deepest darkness.

Music: Beyond the Sunset

Find Yourself in This Feast

Saturday, February 2, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

Presentation
Icon from The Menologion of Basil II, an illuminated manuscript designed as a church calendar or Eastern Orthodox Church service book (menologion) that was compiled c. 1000 AD, for the Byzantine Emperor Basil II

This event is layered with human and Divine dimensions. It is filled with memorable characters and key moments in their lives. One or more of their stories may touch your own experience as you pray today.

The infant Jesus, just forty days old, is presented and dedicated in the Temple, setting in motion his whole life as the fulfillment of Jewish expectation. We may reflect on the power of our own Baptisms. If we were infants when baptized, we may recall who carried us to the font and who stood for our dedication to Christ.

Mary and Joseph came to the Temple that day for the ritual of Purification. They place their young marriage, and their beginning parenthood, into the circle of their Jewish faith. We may reflect on those points of religious dedication in our own lives – marriage, religious profession, ordination, Confirmation, and just how much the sacred nature of these events impacts our daily living.

Anna and Simeon, long-faithful servants of God, rejoice in the fulfillment of their hopes for the Messiah. Those of us richer in years might gratefully reflect on God’s fidelity to us over the course of our lifetime, and what sacred hopes we still might long to have fulfilled.

Simeon, so completed by seeing his Savior, intones the moving prayer Nunc Dimittis – “Now You may dismiss your servant in peace.” We might pray for those who are nearing their life’s close that they may be blessed with peace. We might also pray for ourselves that we will experience peace and joy at the end of our lives.

And finally venerable Anna who, woman to woman, stood beside young Mary as Mary faced Simeon’s painful words:

Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
and you yourself a sword will pierce
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.

For a beautiful meditation on Anna, click here.

Music: Bach – Cantate BWV 125 – Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
Johann Sebastian Bach composed the cantata Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin With peace and joy I depart), BWV 125, for use in a Lutheran service. He composed this in 1725 for the feast for the Purification of Mary which is celebrated on 2 February and is also known as Candlemas. The cantata is based on Martin Luther’s 1524 Hymn.

Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin
In Gottes Willen,
Getrost ist mir mein Herz und Sinn,
Sanft und stille.
Wie Gott mir verheißen hat:
Der Tod ist mein Schlaf worden.

With peace and joy I go on my way
in God’s will.
My heart and mind are comforted,
peaceful and calm.
As God promised me
death has become my sleep.

 

In Remembrance

mom seaside

Go on…

Now, my mother done her dying,
I come back again to my own life
that I had taken off,
the way you take a coat off
and hang it on a hook behind the door
when seasons change,
sometimes forgetting where it is
until you feel the cold again.

When word that she was ill
fell like a wounded bird
into time’s tranquil pool,
I just ignored the cold.
I walked out into night
to take her hand as she
left quickly for its distant edge.

Through four cold months, we pulled
stars down to light that edge,
blue-hot stars we’d fired
in long years of love.

Family, friends and names that
dozed like dormant flowers in a field
flew up in such a rush of love
around us that November turned to May.

Then, one icy day in January,
I cleared our sidewalk of a heavy snow,
in brief, staccatoed intervals,
lest leaving her too long, the
fragile thread would break
without my benediction.

It was Tuesday, I remember,
but time was caught behind
a wall of silence.  It moved
at half-speed.  Within its womb
that birthed my mother to another life,
I was timeless, still, unborn again.

When my mother died, she did it
just as I had left my life
four months before, with
love and not a glance behind,
no brief regret to do
what faith required her to do.

She drew that thin last breath
from air we shared, as my cheek
laid tenderly on hers, I whispered,
“Go on … and I love you.”

Music: Halleluia – Leonard Chen – played here by:
Violin: Leonardo Barcellos: Cello: Daniel Enache; Guitar: Leonardo Barcellos

Fan the Love into Flame

SATURDAY, JANUARY 26, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we have the beautiful letter from Paul to Timothy, filled with tenderness, encouragement, hope and the sweet suggestion of loving memories.

2 tim1_6 fan to flame

When we travel life’s road, what an indescribable blessing to have even one companion who loves us the way Paul loved Timothy — to care for our whole life,  our whole soul, and our whole “forever”.

In his letter, Paul reveals that Timothy has been immensely blessed with such love.  Timothy’s mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois have already – for many years –  tendered Timothy in the faith.

In this lovely letter, Paul notes that he prays for Timothy daily.

Do we pray for those who have blessed us and loved us in our lives? Do we tell them so, if they are living? Do we thank and remember them if they have gone home to God?

Paul closes this part of his letter with such beautiful words to Timothy:

For this reason,
I remind you to stir into flame
the gift of God that you have
through the laying on of my hands.

Many people have rested their hands on your spirit, on your heart.  Be filled with love and gratitude for them today and everyday. For those who have done otherwise, forgive them and let them go.

I remember in a special way today my mother who died on this date thirty-one years ago.  In a separate email, I share a poem I wrote after Mom’s death.  It is a little sad in tone, but it may touch and help some of you, my readers, who are experiencing grief.

Stay with your grief, beloveds, long enough to find the blessing within it.

Some meditative music: for your remembering prayerJames Last – Coulin

Heyday Jesus

Thursday, January 24, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, Mark’s Gospel portrays Jesus in his “heyday”. 

heydayjpg

It is early in his ministry. Word is spreading about his teaching and his miracles. He is the “hot ticket” in any town he visits. But what was Jesus thinking in the midst of all the hubbub?

We get a few good hints in our Gospel.

  • Jesus withdrew toward the sea
  • He wanted a boat ready lest the crowd would crush him
  • He warned the unclean spirits not to make him known

These phrases suggest that Jesus was a bit overwhelmed by the furor. No doubt he realizes that his identity and message go far beyond the show of miracles. Can the “fandom” of these early crowds be converted to deep and committed discipleship?

This reading might incline me to consider my own faith. 

Do I love and follow just the “heyday Jesus” – the One who is powerful over the demons and deaths I fear?

Or have I learned to love and follow the deeper Jesus, the One who suffers and dies for justice, goodness and love – the One Who lives in the poor?

One way to answer these questions is to ask ourselves where we find Jesus in our daily lives.

Is he confined to our Bible, our church, our prayerbooks and our moral judgments?

Or is our faith deep enough to see and love him in the suffering face of humanity – perhaps where it is inconvenient, costly and sometimes unsettling to find him? 

Music: God of the Poor ~ Graham Kendrick

The Path through Suffering

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

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Today, in Mercy, we again read from the epistle to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Mark. We will be doing this for the next month or so.

heb2_10 sufferingjpg

Hebrews is unique in that it was written rather specifically for Jews who had become Christians. They were people who were steeped in the spirituality and expectations of the Old Testament. They had been waiting for a militant Messiah who would deliver them from earthly suffering by a display of power and might.

During the first century of Christianity, as the nascent Church experienced persecution, that hope for delivery re-emerged. Although they had accepted a Resurrected Christ, the community’s own present suffering fixated them on the Passion and death of Jesus. They questioned how that anguished man could really be the One foretold in their Hebrew Scriptures, and how he could transform their lives.

Can’t we empathize with those early Judea-Christians? The mystery of suffering and death still haunts us. Don’t we sometimes question why Jesus had to die like that – why we have to die, why the people we love have to die? Don’t we feel at least some resistance to this overwhelming mystery?

The author of Hebrews tries to address those doubts by showing that the majesty of Christ resides not just in his divine nature, but in his loving willingness to share our human nature. By doing so, Jesus demonstrated in his flesh the path we must take to holiness. He leads the way through our doubts if we put our faith in him.

This is the core mystery of our faith: that God brings us to eternal life not by a path outside our human experience. Rather, Jesus shows us how to pattern our lives on the profound sacrificial love which is the lavish Mercy of God. The path to eternal life is not around our human frailties but through them.

Mark gives us just one Gospel example of that love today in the healing of the man with the unclean spirit. That spirit was one of resistance to the Word of God, screaming out as Jesus began to preach a Gospel of love, faith, and forgiveness.

As we pray these scriptures today, let us put before God’s healing touch any resistance in our hearts to Jesus’s call to be merciful love in the world.

Music:  Crown Him with Many Crowns, an 1851 hymn with lyrics written by Matthew Bridges and Godfrey Turing and sung to the tune ‘Diademata‘ by Sir George Job Elvey.

This majestic hymn reflects how mid-19th century theology attempted to embrace the Redemptive mystery. Still, many of its suggestions, though cast in an earlier idiom, are well worth reflection.

Now Go in Peace

Saturday, December 29, 2019

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Lk2_29 Nunc

Today, in Mercy,  our first reading offers us John’s perfect honesty and simplicity:

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
But whoever keeps his word,
the love of God is truly perfected in him.
This is the way we may know that we are in union with him:
whoever claims to abide in him ought to walk just as he walked.

Yes, it’s that simple and that hard!

Then, in our Gospel, we meet Simeon who speaks with the holy confidence of a long and well-lived life. His lifelong dream was that he might not die before seeing the Messiah. That dream now fulfilled, Simeon intones one of the most beautiful prayers in Scripture:

Lord, now let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you prepared in the sight of every people,
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.

If we live in the Light, we too will see the Messiah within our life’s experiences. We too will come to our final days confident and blessed by that enduring recognition.

For as John also assures us:

Whoever says he is in the light,
yet hates his brother or sister is still in the darkness.
But whoever loves his brother and sister remains in the light …

Let’s pray today for those who are dying, that they may know this kind of peace.

Let us pray for ourselves, that when our time comes, we too may experience this confidence.

Music:  Nyne Otpushchayeshi ~Sergei Rachmaninoff (translated Nunc Dimittis, Now Let Your Servant Go). This was sung at Rachmaninoff’s funeral, at his prior request. (For musicians among you, point of interest: Nunc dimittis (Nyne otpushchayeshi), has gained notoriety for its ending in which the low basses must negotiate a descending scale that ends with a low B-flat (the third B-flat below middle C).

Church Slavonic text
Ныне отпущаеши раба Твоего,
Владыко, по глаголу Твоему, с миром;
яко видеста очи мои спасение Твое,
еже еси уготовал,
пред лицем всех людей,
свет во откровение языков
и славу людей Твоих Израиля

English translation
Now let Your servant depart in peace,
Lord, by Your word;
My eyes have seen Your salvation,
Which You have prepared,
In view of all the people,
A light revealed to all tongues
and to the glory of Your people, Israel

St. Stephen, Protomartyr

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

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The Demidoff Altarpiece: Saint Stephen
Representation of St. Stephen from The Demidoff Altarpiece by Carlo Crivelli, an Italian Renaissance painter of the late fifteenth century. This many-panelled altarpiece or polyptic painted by Crivelli in 1476, sat on the high altar of the church of San Domenico in Ascoli Piceno, east central Italy. It is now in the National Gallery in London, England.

 

Today, in Mercy, we celebrate the Feast of St. Stephen, first martyr for the Christian faith. 

The commemoration and readings are a drastic turn from singing angels and worshiping shepherds.The Liturgy moves quickly from welcoming a cooing baby to weeping at the death of innocence. Why?

One thought might be to keep us practical and focused on what life in Christ truly means.

Stephen, like Jesus, “was filled with grace and power, … working great wonders and signs among the people.” He, as Jesus would, met vicious resistance to his message of love and reconciliation. He, as Jesus would, died a martyr’s death while forgiving his enemies.

The Church turns us to the stark truth for anyone who lets Christ truly be born in their hearts. WE will suffer as Jesus did – as Stephen did. The grace and power of Christ in our life will be met with resistance, or at least indifference.

We may not shed blood but, in Christ, we will die to self. When we act for justice for the poor and mercy for the suffering, we will be politically frustrated and persecuted. When we forgive rather than hate, we will be mocked. Powerful people, like the yet unconverted Saul in today’s second reading, may catalyze our suffering by their determined hard-heartedness.

Our Gospel confirms the painful truth:

“You will be hated by all because of my name,
but whoever endures to the end will be saved.”

Tomorrow, the liturgy picks up the poetic readings from John’s letters. These are delights to the soul. 

But for today, it is a hard look, with Stephen, at what Christmas ultimately invites us to.

Music: Gabriel’s Oboe from the movie “The Mission”, played by Henrik Chaim Goldschmidt,  principal oboist of The Royal Danish Orchestra in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The Fiery Wine Press

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

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Rev 14_19 furyJPG

Today, in Mercy, we are struck with Revelation’s images of the end time!

  • a crowned Christ wielding a sharp sickle
  • angels commanding the final harvest of the earth

and perhaps the most powerful

  • the earth’s vintage thrown into the great winepress of God’s fury!

This author could write! We can almost imagine the scene, filmed with all the pyro-technics of today’s computer age.

But besides the amazing imagery, what does the passage say to our hearts?

In Biblical symbolism, the winepress almost always stands for judgment. The passage reminds us that we all will be judged.  The divine winepress will compress the sinful gaps that plague our human existence.  In the end time, there will be no “other” — no judgmental spaces separating us from one another.  We will all be one, like wine mingled.

We will be judged on how we lived that oneness in this life, on where we have stood in the gap between the:

  • rich and poor
  • well and sick
  • citizen and refugee
  • abled and disabled
  • powerful and vulnerable

Do we live in ignorance or indifference to those who suffer on the other side of the human scale? Have we been impervious to the imbalances of justice and charity in this world?

And how do we respond? The passage suggests that we do some weeding of our spiritual gardens before the harvest of our souls. The intention of this fiery writer is to tell us that we still have a little time.

Music:  The Day Is Surely Drawing Near – written by the prolific 16th century Lutheran hymnist Bartholomaüs Ringwaldt. This piece is a majestic instrumental rendering, but if you would like to see the words, they are below. 

1 The day is surely drawing near
When Jesus, God’s anointed,
In all His power shall appear
As judge whom God appointed.
Then fright shall banish idle mirth,
And flames on flames shall ravage earth
As Scripture long has warned us.

2 The final trumpet then shall sound
And all the earth be shaken,
And all who rest beneath the ground
Shall from their sleep awaken.
But all who live will in that hour,
By God’s almighty, boundless pow’r,
Be changed at His commanding.

3 The books are opened then to all,
A record truly telling
What each has done, both great and small,
When he on earth was dwelling,
And ev’ry heart be clearly seen,
And all be known as they have been
In thoughts and words and actions.

4 Then woe to those who scorned the Lord
And sought but carnal pleasures,
Who here despised His precious Word
And loved their earthly treasures!
With shame and trembling they will stand
And at the judge’s stern command
To Satan be delivered.

5 My Savior paid the debt I owe
And for my sin was smitten;
Within the Book of Life I know
My name has now been written.
I will not doubt, for I am free,
And Satan cannot threaten me;
There is no condemnation!

6 May Christ our intercessor be
And through His blood and merit
Read from His book that we are free
With all who life inherit.
Then we shall see Him face to face,
With all His saints in that blest place
Which He has purchased for us. 

7 O Jesus Christ, do not delay,
But hasten our salvation;
We often tremble on our way
In fear and tribulation.
O hear and grant our fervent plea;
Come, mighty judge, and make us free
From death and ev’ry evil.